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North West healthcare providers commit to arts on prescription for mothers and babies

The social prescription plan will focus on new mothers and babies. Photo: KPG_Payless Shutterstock The social prescription plan will focus on new mothers and babies. Photo: KPG_Payless Shutterstock
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A group of 27 NHS organisations in the North West have committed to offer arts on prescription, as part of a widening trend to explore the impact of creativity on health and well-being.

The healthcare providers, all in Cheshire and Merseyside, will develop a social prescription plan focusing on new mothers and babies, and incorporating partnerships with cultural organisations.

It is the outcome of a nine-month scoping exercise that took place in 2017 to establish the benefits that cultural interventions could have as part of a wider social prescribing model.

Social prescribing enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer patients to creative activities as a non-clinical alternative to treatment, particularly in relation to mental health and social isolation.

In the case of Cheshire and Merseyside, partnerships between arts and health will be aimed at new and expectant mothers, and babies.

In an NHS England report on the scoping exercise, consultant Jo Ward, who carried out the project, said it had uncovered public and professional ignorance around the numbers of women experiencing mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year of their child’s life.

She also highlighted the developmental impact of chronic and unpredictable stress in childhood, and the role creative social prescribing could play in well-being and recovery.

As a result, the North West Social Prescribing Network has promised a regional commitment to deliver the “first free social prescription to support maternal well-being and the best start in life for a child”, through partnerships with arts organisations.

Each area of Cheshire and Merseyside will now be tasked will implementing the plan, tailored for the area, over the next year.

The first ever symposium on the topic will be held in Liverpool in July to present research and explore ideas for the future.

Dave Sweeney, who will oversee the project’s realisation, said healthcare providers are now looking to the arts and other social interventions to provide solutions where traditional treatment is either not effective or less available.

“What we’ve got to do is connect people back with people, and look to what we know keeps people well. The arts are so varied – dance, music, visual art – the whole remit is a core asset. These are the things that keep people well, keep people occupied. They are great during times of hardship and to bring solace but also vibrant, they keep the mind alive and the brain active, meaning people are socially active, reducing isolation.

“In the past [arts and health] was seen as quite wooly. Now there’s a huge science around it,” he said.

He added that he hoped the work in Cheshire and Merseyside would be used as an example that other areas of the UK could take on in future.

Earlier this year, a report by the Arts Council of Wales recommended the expansion of arts on prescription within the NHS, and called for designated coordinators to carry this out in Wales.

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